Angling for the Great Function







Thirty years on the river bank,
Angling for the great function,
If you don’t catch the golden fish, it’s all in vain.
You may as well reel in and go back home.

Letting down the line ten thousand feet,
A breaking wave makes ten thousand ripples.
At night in still water, the cold fish won’t bite.
An empty boat filled with moonlight returns.

Sailing the sea for thirty years,
The fish seen in clear water won’t take the hook.
Breaking the fishing pole, growing bamboo,
Abandoning all schemes, one finds repose.

There’s a great fish that can’t be measured.
It embraces the astonishing and wondrous!
In wind and thunder transformed,
How can it be caught?

Others only seek gathering lotus flowers,
Their scent pervading the wind.
But as long as there are two shores and a lone red boat,
There’s no escape from pollution, nor any attainment of emptiness.

If you asked, “Is this lone boat all there is in life?”
I’d say, “Descendants will each see the results.”
Not depending on earth or heaven,
When the rain shawl is removed, nothing’s left to pass on.

- Chuanzi Decheng, (aka, “The Boat Monk”), a successor of Yaoshan who became a ferryman during the great purge of Buddhism in 845. Above is Andy Ferguson’s translation (click here for the Google Book, p. 145). More about him appears in Dogen’s Extensive Record, pp. 550-555, especially.

Photo above from the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, taken as we paddled out.

  • http://JustThis( Alan

    Why a “red” boat?


    • doshoport

      I’m thinking because our flesh is red and the boat is us.

  • Tetsugan

    “…when the rain shawl is removed, nothing’s left to pass on.”


  • Harry

    Regarding ‘red’ something springs to mind…

    There’s an old Japanese saying something like ‘seki shin he pen’ (I’m no linguist!) which means something like ‘red mind every minute’; The ‘red’ means ‘raw’, ‘naked’, ‘in the flesh’. If memory serves me, Master Dogen employs the term ‘seki shin’ in Shobogenzo to indicate very sincere conduct.



    • doshoport

      Yes, Harry, I think that’s right. Thanks.

  • Alan

    Thanks Harry

  • Koany

    “There’s a great fish that can’t be measured.”

    This is an interesting paragraph laden with symbolism. Note that the first line about the fish is a possible reference to the opening lines of the book “Free and Easy Wandering” by Zhuangzi:

    “IN THE NORTHERN DARKNESS there is a fish and his name is K’un. The K’un is so huge I don’t know how many thousand li he measures.”